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Detroit Memorial Park Association, Inc. v. City of Detroit Board of Zoning Appeals

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

May 14, 2015

Detroit Memorial Park Association, Inc., et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
City of Detroit Board of Zoning Appeals, et al., Defendants.

OPINION & ORDER

SEAN F. COX, District Judge.

Plaintiffs wish to use a parcel of property in the City of Detroit, that was formerly a golf course, as a cemetery. In this action, Plaintiffs assert two federal Constitutional claims: 1) that they were denied due process with respect to the zoning decisions relating to the property (Count (III); and 2) that the zoning decisions resulted in the taking of private property without payment of just compensation (Count IV). Plaintiffs also ask the Court to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over two state-law claims: 1) an appeal of the zoning decision (Count I); and 2) alleged violations of Michigan's Open Meetings Act (Count II). The matter is currently before the Court on three Motions to Dismiss filed by Defendants, which all raise the same issues. The parties have briefed the issues and the Court heard oral argument on April 23, 2015.

In the pending motions, Defendants ask this Court to abstain from hearing Plaintiffs' federal claims (Counts III and IV) under either the Burford or Pullman abstention doctrines. They also ask the Court to decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' state-law claims (Counts I and II). As explained below, this Court concludes that Defendants have not established that the Court should abstain from hearing the federal claims under either the Burford or Pullman doctrines. Thus, Plaintiff's federal claims shall proceed in this action. With respect to Plaintiffs' state-law claims, however, this Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over those claims and shall dismiss them without prejudice.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs the Detroit Memorial Park Association, Inc. ("DMPA") and Greater Grace Temple ("Greater Grace") (collectively "Plaintiffs") filed this action on October 28, 2014, asserting claims against the following Defendants: 1) the City of Detroit Board of Zoning Appeals; 2) Robert G. Weed; 3) Beverly Bee Smith; 4) Keith Williams; 5) Antonette McIlwain; 6) Paul Huxley; 7) Robert E. Thomas; 8) Evelyn Smith; 9) Tonya Stapleton; and 10) Helen Sharpley.

The property at issue in this action "was a park and golf course that the City [of Detroit] owned until 2007, when the City determined it could no longer afford the losses in operating the course." (Compl. at ¶ 3). Greater Grace, a nearby church, purchased the property from the City of Detroit. ( Id. ). Greater Grace has negotiated a contract to sell the property to the DMPA. The DMPA wishes to use the property as a cemetery. But the City of Detroit's Buildings Safety Engineering & Environmental Department ("BSEED") denied the DMPA's conditional use application for the property zoned R1. The DMPA then appealed that decision to Defendant Zoning Board of Appeals for the City of Detroit ("ZBA") and the ZBA denied the appeal. The individual Defendants are members of the ZBA (Weed, Huxley, McIlwain, Beverly and Evelyn Smith, Thomas, and Williams), the BSEED (Stapleton), and the Detroit Planning and Development Department (Sharpley).

Plaintiffs filed the action in federal court based upon federal-question jurisdiction over Counts III and IV. Plaintiffs ask this Court to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over their remaining state-law claims. (Compl. at ¶ 21). Notably, Plaintiffs made a demand for a jury. (Compl. at Pg ID 64). Plaintiffs' Complaint asserts four counts.

Count I - State-Law Appeal Of Zoning Decision

The first count in Plaintiffs' Complaint is titled, "Count I - Claim Of Appeal And Declaratory Judgment."

Under Michigan law, a party aggrieved by a decision of the zoning board of appeals "may appeal to the circuit court for the county in which the property is located." Mich. Comp. Laws § 125.3606. That state-law statute provides that the "circuit court shall review the record and decision to ensure that the decision": (a) "Complies with the constitution and laws of the state;" (b) "Is based upon proper procedure;" (c) "Is supported by competent, material, and substantial evidence on the record;" and (d) "Represents the reasonable exercise of discretion granted by law to the zoning board of appeals." The circuit court reviewing a decision by a zoning board of appeals "may affirm, reverse, or modify the decision, " "order further proceedings on conditions that the court considers proper, " or "may make other orders as justice requires."

In Count I, Plaintiffs seek to have their zoning appeal decided in federal court. Nevertheless, Plaintiffs also filed an appeal in Wayne County Circuit Court appealing the adverse decision from the ZBA. ( See Exs. A & B to Docket Entry No. 4).

Count II - Violation Of Michigan's Open Meetings Act

Second, Plaintiff's Complaint includes "Count II - Violations Of Michigan Open Meetings Act." In Count II, Plaintiffs allege that the ZBA and the individual Defendants have violated Michigan's Open Meetings Act, Mich. Comp. Laws § 15.261 et seq., in connection with their deliberations and meetings. Plaintiffs ask the Court to find that Defendants have violated the Open Meetings Act in their individual and official capacities, award Plaintiff's $500 per violation, and order such further relief as this Court deems equitable.

Michigan's Open Meetings Act provides that "any person may commence a civil action in the circuit court to challenge the validity of a decision of a public body made in violation of the act." Mich. Comp. Laws § 15.270(1). The circuit court may invalidate any decision made by a public body under various circumstances. Id. Mich. Comp. Laws § 15.270(2). The Open Meetings Act also allows a person to file suit to enjoin further noncompliance with the act. Mich. Comp. Laws § 15.271 (1). The Open Meetings Act provides that a public official who intentionally violates the act can be fined $500.00. Mich. Comp. Laws § 15.273.

Count III - Due Process Violation

Third, Plaintiff's Complaint includes "Count III 42 U.S.C. § 1983." In Count III, Plaintiffs assert that, in connection with the decisions rendered by the BSEED and ZBA, Defendants have violated Plaintiffs' due process rights under the United States Constitution and Michigan's Constitution. Plaintiffs seek monetary damages and injunctive relief as to Count III.

Count IV - Takings Claim

Fourth, Plaintiff's Complaint includes "Count IV Taking Of Private Property Without Just Compensation." In Count IV, Plaintiffs allege that the "decisions of the ZBA, and the decisions of" the BSEED have "resulted in the taking of private property without payment of just compensation, " in violation of the United States Constitution and Michigan's Constitution.

Defendants' Motions To Dismiss

Defendants have filed the following three Motions to Dismiss: 1) the City of Detroit Board of Zoning Appeals' Motion to Dismiss (Docket Entry No. 4); 2) a Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendants Weed, Williams, Huxley, Thomas, Evelyn Smith, Stapleton, and Sharpley (Docket Entry No. 17); and 3) a Motion to Dismiss filed by Beverly Bee Smith (Docket Entry No. 19). All three motions are brought pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), and all three motions raise the same challenges.

ANALYSIS

In the pending motions, Defendants ask the Court to abstain from hearing Plaintiffs' federal claims, and also ask the Court to decline to exercise jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' state-law claims.

I. Should The Court Abstain From Addressing Plaintiff's Purported Federal Claims (Counts III & IV)?

In all three of the pending Motions to Dismiss, Defendants' primary argument is that under the Burford and Pullman abstention doctrines, this Court should abstain from hearing Plaintiff's federal claims (Counts III & IV).

As a backdrop to their abstention arguments, Defendants assert that "there is no disputing that the BZA's actions in this matter were undertaken pursuant to the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act (MZEA'), MCL § 125.3101" et seq. and the "MZEA provides the exclusive method to appeal decisions made by boards of zoning appeals, namely by appeal to the circuit court." (Docket Entry No. 4 at 4). Defendants assert that "[b]ecause land disputes implicate important local issues, federal courts, routinely abstain from becoming involved in such disputes unless and until it is clearly necessary and appropriate to do so." Id.

A. Burford Abstention

Defendants first contend that this Court should abstain from hearing Plaintiffs' federal claims under the Burford abstention doctrine. In support of its argument that the Court should abstain under the Burford doctrine, Defendants direct the Court to: 1) MacDonald v. Village of Northport, Michigan, 164 F.3d 964 (6th Cir. 1999); 2) Camp v. City of Charlevoix, 2008 WL 4185954 (W.D. Mich. 2008); and 3) Pomponio v. Fauquier Cnty. Bd. of Supervisors, 21 F.3d 1319 (4th Cir. 1994).

In response, Plaintiffs contend that this Court should not abstain from hearing their federal claims under Burford and direct the Court to Saginaw Housing Comm'n v. Bannum, Inc., 576 F.3d 620 (6th Cir. 2009). Plaintiffs contend that Defendants' Burford abstention argument should be rejected because: 1) "Defendants have not made a strong showing of the coherent state policies or highly complex, unsettled state law issues required ...


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